The organized team activities (OTAs) portion of the NFL Offseason is one where things can get silly sometimes.
It's a point in time where everybody looks good, so and so is better than ever, and there is hope within 32 different buildings across the National Football League.
While OTAs are technically optional, they're really not. Anybody who is a competitor and a point of stability on his team is present for them. Obviously there are rare exceptions, but typically if you're absent from OTAs it means that you're not 100% committed.
These days it seems like Rolando McClain, who has yet to show up to OTAs, has other interests. We learned on Wednesday that McClain has been in Alabama with his children, and perhaps there's more to that story, but he is and has not been with his Dallas Cowboys teammates.
Rolando came into our lives through the just before the magnificent 2014 Dallas Cowboys season. In a season bereft of Sean Lee, he filled in valiantly and proved to be the Middle Linebacker we need (although not necessarily the one we deserve... that's Jaylon Smith). When Sean Lee came back in 2015 he proved that the Weakside Linebacker spot is indeed where he belongs as he was voted to his first ever Pro Bowl (where he picked off Eli Manning by the way).
With McClain temporarily, arguably willingly, out of service that means there is a gaping hole in the middle of the defense (there's a sentence we've said a lot over the years...). The Cowboys are working during OTAs and have someone taking the reps that would otherwise be Rolando's (you know, if he showed up or whatever).
Andrew Gachkar https://t.co/e1Vbp8WiRU
Can Andrew Gachkar Really Be This Team's Starting Middle Linebacker?
That's the million dollar question, isn't it? Technically it's the $3,375,000 question (McClain's 2016 cap hit, per Over The Cap).
Gachkar, aka The Gach, actually started one game last year for America's Team. It was the fiasco at home against the Philadelphia Eagles where, of all people, Sam Bradford threw a game-winning touchdown at the expense of our beloved Dallas Cowboys, JJ Wilcox, and Brandon Carr.
I'm not about to pretend that Andrew Gachkar is the reincarnated version of Ray Lewis. The only thing he's got in common with the Greatest Baltimore Raven Ever is his jersey number. For what it's worth though, the Cowboys could certainly do a lot worse than 'ol Andrew.
The fact that Andrew is the one taking the reps intended for McClain is indicative that he's the clubhouse leader to be the guy in a world without 55 (and Jaylon Smith still healing). Assuming Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens are your other starting linebackers this leaves the newly re-signed Kyle Wilber and last year's Training Camp sensation Damien Wilson as other candidates.
Gachkar had actually never even played the MLB spot prior to the time that the Cowboys spent in Oxnard last summer. He comes from a 3-4 scheme in San Diego, but his versatility is what makes him most valuable. He's been able to adapt to most situations and that, coupled with his size (he's an inch shorter than McClain albeit 25 pounds lighter), is what makes him a strong contender at the MLB spot.
I, and host Bobby Belt, spoke with The Gach last year on Cowboys Cast so I can tell you firsthand that the guy is all about work, work, work (not the Fifth Harmony kind unfortunately). I know that song says that you don't gotta go to work (x6) but Andrew does go to work. That's what makes him awesome.
While Rolando McClain is tending to family business (a common occurrence during his days in the Blue & Silver) Gachkar is getting invaluable time with one of the most underrated coaches in the NFL - Matt Eberflus.
Let's not forget that beyond his inability to actually show up for work, Rolando McClain is sometimes forbidden to show up to work. Last year he was suspended for the first four games of the season thanks to a failed drug test. His on, and off, the field drama certainly doesn't fit Head Coach Jason Garret's "Right Kind Of Guy" mantra that he famously preaches.
Andrew Gachkar does.
Hopefully The Gach can make the most of these OTAs and the offseason opportunities that present themselves to him. The fact that he's willing to at least try is what already has him leaps and bounds ahead of Rolando McClain.
What do you think? Should Gachkar be given a legitimate shot to start at Middle Linebacker if Rolando McClain keeps this up? Let us know! Comment below, Email me at RJ@RJOchoaShow.com, or Tweet to me at @rjochoa!
Leighton Vander Esch To Top Rookie Season With Pro Bowl Trip
Dallas Cowboys' rookie Leighton Vander Esch has done enough to prove every single doubter wrong. When Roger Goodell called his name during the 2018 NFL Draft in Arlington, Texas, many in Cowboys Nation rejoiced at the thought of having a young linebacker for a defense surrounded with uncertainty. However, many analysts doubted the draft pick. For a lot of people (sadly, I include myself in this category), the pick should've been used on another player. For most, despite acknowledging his raw talent, Vander Esch wouldn't be able to provide the Cowboys with an instant impact player. Ah, well.
After a remarkable season, Vander Esch (a.k.a. Wolf Hunter) has earned a spot on this season's second-team All-Pro. When the Pro Bowl voting began, Vander Esch was snubbed from the ballot itself. It didn't took the NFL long to realize their mistake and add the Cowboys' linebacker to the list. Despite missing the cut at first, Vander Esch will be heading to Orlando to play in this year's Pro Bowl on January 27th.
DallasCowboys linebacker @VanderEsch38 has been added to the 2019 Pro Bowl Roster. 🐺 Congratulations, rookie! → https://t.co/AYqEUy2tZx
The former Boise State Bronco will be replacing Carolina Panthers' LB Luke Kuechly, who won't be participating because of an injury.
Vander Esch racked up 140 tackles (per Pro Football Reference), ranking third in the league in this category. He finished the season as the fifth best linebacker in Pro Football Focus' rankings.
But numbers aren't really enough to fully appreciate what Vander Esch did for the Dallas Cowboys. A team that was used to seeing its defense break when veteran Sean Lee went down injured, did not only get someone to fill in for Lee. Vander Esch actually upgraded the Cowboys' defense. It didn't matter where the ball went, he was always around when opponents were tackled. His speed and chance of direction allowed him to run sideline to sideline, covering a huge portion of the field.
Along Jaylon Smith, Dallas managed to have one of the best linebacker duos in the NFL.
The last time a defensive rookie from the Cowboys went to the Pro Bowl was in 1981, when Everson Walls made the team. Vander Esch is the 11th rookie in team history to be selected to the Pro Bowl. This year, the rookie will be accompanied by DeMarcus Lawrence, Byron Jones, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Ezekiel Elliott.
Cowboys Expect C Travis Frederick Back for Offseason Program
Lost in yesterday's hoopla over Scott Linehan's return was a positive report about Center Travis Frederick. In his comments to the media, Jason Garrett said that Frederick's recovery timetable should allow him to a full participant in the team's offseason program.
After never missing a start in his first five years, Travis missed all of 2018 dealing with the effects of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. The disease attacked his neurological system and required immediate and intensive treatment.
Jason Garrett says the team anticipates Travis Frederick being involved in the offseason program right from the start this spring if he continues on the same positive track in recovery from Guillain-Barré syndrome. #cowboyswire
While Joe Looney performed admirably in Frederick's absence, he's not an elite talent. Travis has been arguably the best center in the NFL since entering the league in 2013.
It's hard to qualify what effect not having Frederick had on the Cowboys offense in 2018. Ezekiel Elliott still led the league in rushing, but short-yardage plays weren't as automatic as we've seen in past years. A 4th-and-1 stuff was part of what led to the Cowboys' loss this past Saturday.
Dak Prescott was the second-most sacked QB in the NFL in 2018. After being sacked just 25 and 32 times in his first two seasons, the number skyrocketed to 56 sacks.
That's not all on Frederick, of course. Tyron Smith had some health issues and there were was turnover at left guard.
But having your All-Pro veteran center out there to help with the pre-snap reads, and help the rookie guard on his left, might have helped avoid some of those issues.
Indeed, Travis Frederick's return is just one of many reasons for optimism with the 2019 season. One of the best players on the team, he was sorely missed this year and can only help as Dallas looks to build on their division title and playoff appearance.
For Cowboys to Beat the Rams, Dak Prescott must Lead the Way
In the NFL wins and losses often come down to quarterback play. That isn't to say that if a team wins, it was all because of the quarterback and inversely, if a team loses that it was all on the quarterback. Teams win or lose games. Generally speaking, however, the quarterback has the highest amount of influence on the outcome of an NFL game. This will be no different for the Dallas Cowboys this Saturday when they take on the Los Angeles Rams in the LA Coliseum. For America's Team to make their first trip to the NFC Championship Game since 1996, Dak Prescott has to have a good game.
This looks to be a good matchup for the Dallas Cowboys offense, which should allow Dak Prescott and the Cowboys to take advantage in certain areas.
A few Rams Passing Game Notes
- The Los Angeles Rams were middle of the pack against the pass this season, allowing the 14th fewest passing yards in the league this season.
- The Rams allowed 7.7 yards per attempt. Dak Prescott is averaging 7.6 yards per attempt since week 10 of the season.
- The Rams allowed the eighth most passing touchdowns in the NFL this season. They and the New Orleans Saints are the only teams in the top 10 of passing touchdowns allowed in the playoffs this season.
- The Rams were 15th in the NFL in sacks, with 41, but Aaron Donald accounted for half of that with 20.5 sacks on the season. No other player had more than five sacks.
- They were third in the NFL in interceptions, collecting 18.
- The Rams allowed the ninth highest yards per completion on the season at 11.8. So on average, every completion went for a first down.
Dak Prescott is playing as well as any quarterback in the playoffs at the moment. Over the last nine games, he's averaging 272 passing yards, two total touchdowns, was only intercepted four times, and was sacked on average 3.2 times per game.
On Saturday night, we saw Scott Linehan put the ball in his hands on a couple designed runs that nearly scored touchdowns. It was an excellent addition to the offense that could help fix the Cowboys red zone woes. Getting Dak Prescott running on some designed runs or quarterback draws could help slow down Aaron Donald and the pass rush.
The Cowboys needed every bit of Dak Prescott magic to overcome a stingy Seattle Seahawks defense in their Wild Card win and they'll need him to step up again this week against the Rams. Every team is going to attempt to take away the running game to make Dak beat you and as he continues to mature, he's getting more and more comfortable doing that. He's comfortable with the big stage and the big moments.
Dak Prescott Since 2016, including playoffs * 15 game-winning drives (Most in NFL) * 13 primetime QB wins (Most in NFL) * 19 rush TD (Most in NFL by QB) #DallasCowboys @dak
No Quarterback in the NFL has more game winning drives, rushing touchdowns, or wins in primetime than Dak Prescott. When we talk about Dak Prescott, we talk a lot about the things that he can't do as a passer and deservedly so, he still has some growing to do in that area, but in the things that you can't objectively quantify -- mental toughness, resiliency, clutchness, will, determination -- Dak is one of the best in the NFL. He's as mentally tough as they come in the NFL and he doesn't let the spotlight or the game situation phase him. He has that stuff that's hard to put your finger on.
The Dallas Cowboys will need more of that on Saturday night in Los Angeles. The Rams can score and can score in bunches and if the Cowboys defense starts sluggish or has an off night, they'll need Dak Prescott to keep them in the game. Even if the defense has a good game, Dak still has to come through in the passing game and on the ground to give the Cowboys a chance to pull off the upset.
The Dallas Cowboys are going to try to run the ball against the Rams on Saturday. That's their identity; run the ball, control the clock, and be efficient in the passing game. Prescott, either with his legs or with his arm will have to make some plays to extend drives and keep the Rams offense on the sideline. He'll need to be sharp in the red zone to convert those opportunities into touchdowns. Settling for field goals against the Rams is how the Cowboys get beat.
This matchup with the Rams looks to set up nicely for Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys, yet how things look on paper doesn't mean much when the lights go on and the whistle blows. It's a big stage and it's another win-or-go-home game for the Cowboys (like every game has been over the last nine weeks). In a big game, you need big time players, and the Cowboys have one in quarterback Dak Prescott.
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